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Eye Candy: Southern California Historic Sports Car Festival | SVRA | 2016

[dropcap style=”style1″]S[/dropcap]portscar Vintage Racing Association drivers took to the 21-turn, 2.8-mile road-course configuration last weekend at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, for the 15th annual Southern California Historic Sports Car Festival.

I can appreciate the long-bodied, elegant pre-war cars with seductive curves, and even family-style sedans built for “grocery getting,” and of course I enjoy “go-fast” muscle cars and hot rods, but nothing is more alluring than a purpose-built race car. I’ve always thought that not every show car can be a race car, but every race car can be a show car. While there’s nothing like seeing these cars ripping around a racetrack, more such historic racers are making their way to the auction block and show fields and, with their presence, bring light to their eras of technology while representing a role in the evolution to modern race cars.

While it’s educational seeing such cars parked at a show, it’s even better seeing them in their natural habitat — on the track.

They said I could become anything I wanted to be, so I became a race car driver

I recently attended my first vintage racing weekend- the fourth event of the 2016 West Coast season, the SoCal SVRA event began with a full day of open testing along with an optional driver orientation program for drivers who had not previously been on the track or who wanted to gain a few extra “go-fast” tips.

As I talked with drivers I asked them how they got into vintage racing and two comments really stuck with me: one came from someone who has been racing for 30 years while the other was from someone in his first season of competition.

The seasoned driver told me that all he knew was racing and shortly after he retired he began vintage racing as a hobby because he loved the sport and cars. In a sense, he started so he could continue, vintage racing allowed him to drive yet again the cars he loved driving in his younger years.

The other driver told me that he had always had a lifelong dream to be a race car driver but never had the opportunity, or time until his recent retirement.

With the proper car, vintage racing is something anyone can do and it allows seasoned pros alongside the lifelong dreamers on an even playing field, enjoying the cars and sport together.

The SVRA works to ensure wheel-to-wheel completion among similar cars from the same era, restored to a condition consistent with their original, as-raced, specifications. Pre-race inspections and post-race followups are held to ensure that each car is in accordance with the appropriate rules for its category and to make sure that the only on-track advantage lies with the driver and their ability.

As a result, cars competing in the race were split into groups consisting of small- and medium-bore production cars, Formula Ford, sports cars and sedans produced prior to 1979, formula cars, historic stock cars, big-bore production, Can-Am and GTP, and exhibition cars, with Indy cars on the oval only.

Unlike many other motorsports series, SVRA events feature “open pits,” which allow spectators to see the cars up close and tp interact with the drivers and crews.

Race cars were meant to be driven, even in the rain

Plagued by near-constant rainfall, the following two days of competition tested drivers and cars as racing in the rain proved to be mastered only by knowledge and experience. Race days featured exhibition laps on the oval twice each day for vintage and historic Indy cars and sprint cars.

I asked drivers and car owners if they are ever concerned about wrecking the car and not being able to fix it due to a limited supply parts, or that it might impact the cars value.

Everyone was concerned about crashing, but most said that while some of the cars are rare, everything needed for a repair can be fabricated or sourced with time, that the fear of something being irreplaceable shouldn’t stop you from enjoying the car and using it as it was intended.

It rained throughout the event. Some drivers noted that when these were new rather than vintage cars, they were raced in the rain and should be again. Others said that when the track is slippery, they drive more cautiously while others wouldn’t venture onto a wet track for fear of those around them making a mistake and causing a crash.

Pick your poison: Open wheel, stock, sprint, whatever

One of the things I loved the most about my experience with vintage racing was the variety of cars . It was almost like being at several different motorsport events at the same time because each class was so different. While I had seen sprint cars, Indy cars, and stock cars, I had never been exposed to the GT cars that had competed in the World Sports Car Championship and World Manufacturer’s Championship.

The next West Coast SVRA event will be the Sonoma Historic Motorsports Festival, June 2-5, north of San Francisco, followed by the Portland Vintage Racing Festival July 7-10 in Oregon lastly the Coronado Speed Festival, held September 16-18 in San Diego as part of Fleet Week.

Photography by Nicole Ellan James

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